Converse Bright is one of Valdosta’s longest practicing, most well-respected attorneys, and with good reason. His legal career has spanned over 50 years, and during that time he has witnessed many changes to both his profession as well as the people he serves. Over the years, he has taken on a variety of clients, but there are a few that highlight his career and can bring a tear to his eye. Listening to his story was an inspiring experience and one that I will always remember.
From the Beginning
From the very beginning, Converse Bright has had a connection to the building in which he works. He remembers the Coleman Talley building when it was the Southern Salvage store and had even held a job nearby while in his youth. One of the other Eagle Scouts in his troop just happened to be Wade Coleman, the founder of the Coleman Talley Law Firm. The Southern Salvage store was one of his favorite places growing up. His Boy Scout troop used to go to the store to buy tents and other army surplus items from the Korean War. “We could find just about anything we needed for camping here,” he said. The fact that he has had a connection to the area for most of his life is an accurate indicator that things do come full circle.
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A Lesson Learned
Over the years, Mr. Bright has learned many things about the practice of law. He said, “While the substance of law has not changed, the practice of law has.” One of the most significant lessons came early in his career when he was given the case of a young woman named “Marie**”. In the late ’60s when he first started to practice law, there were no public defenders. Instead, the judge would merely appoint an attorney in the courtroom and assign them the case. These types of cases rarely resulted in payment, but Mr. Bright was determined to do his best for his client.
Marie’s story wasn’t unique considering her circumstances. She had been abused by men most of her life. Her husband was no better, and it had gotten to the point where she couldn’t handle it anymore. She had called the police who refused to help her saying that it was a civil matter and that she needed to take care of it herself. One Saturday night, she headed down to Southern Salvage and purchased a small pistol for $45. Sunday morning, the abuse began again, and she had decided she couldn’t take anymore. She retrieved her pistol and shot and killed her abuser. When she was arrested, she admitted what had happened.
In court, the judge pointed to Converse Bright and told him that her case was in his hands. He sat down and listened to Marie’s story. He prepared his case and went into the courtroom. When it was his time to state her defense, he explained her situation and the events that drove her to shoot her husband. He said, “The police told her to take care of it, and she did. The jury agreed.” His aggressive representation was impressive, and the murder charges were dismissed.
After all of the years of being abused and forced down by the men in her life, Marie had little hope of being acquitted. When the judge rendered his decision, Mr. Bright turned to Marie and asked her, “Do you know what this means?” Marie’s only response was to ask, “How much time do I have to spend in jail?” It was at that moment, he realized what it meant to be a good attorney. He looked at Marie and told her, “You’re free. You can go home.” To this day, he still is blessed to run into Marie and is always greeted with the biggest smile. “I’m proud that I was able to help her. As lawyers, we can’t change the facts of the case, but maybe we can influence the case,” he said.
Respected by Many, Rivaled by Few
Converse Bright is a lawyer’s lawyer. He has been named a Super Lawyer and listed as one of the Best Lawyers in America. While those are prestigious accomplishments and he is genuinely proud of them, he is most honored by the respect his peers have shown to him. He is a member of several organizations, but inclusion into the Fellowship of American College of Trial Lawyers and a member of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers are two of his most cherished accomplishments. “An invitation to join the Super Lawyers and Best Attorneys is an honor, but to be nominated by your peers to become a Fellow is a true privilege,” said Mr. Bright. “These are fellow attorneys. Many of the people who put me in were my opponents.”
Proud to Be Old School
The legal world began to change in 1977 when the first ruling was made that would allow lawyers to advertise their services. This basically did two things; it provided an opportunity for attorneys to make themselves more visible. It also caused some attorneys to focus more on how many clients they could get than giving the ones they already had with quality representation. During a time when marketing seemed to overshadow the real value of a lawyer’s service, Converse Bright chose to remain old school.
He decided not to join others when it came to advertising. His reputation spoke for itself. “My clients speak for me. Word of mouth and referrals have always been the best way to get new clients.” When it comes to his clients, they will always be his top priority. As a criminal attorney, he strives to provide each client with the most vigorous representation possible using the very best of his legal knowledge and abilities. He defends each client with the utmost determination and compassion.
Looking to the Future
Converse Bright has worked most of his life. “I had my first job when I was 14. I bagged groceries. I worked in construction.” When asked about my retirement, his voice softened as he said, “What would I do? I have a wonderful wife, Jill, that I adore. She’s good to me, but she doesn’t want me home every day.” He smiled as he finished the thought, “There is only so much fishing you can do.”
When you meet Converse Bright, the first thing you notice is his professional demeanor and his natural smile. Specific topics will bring a serious look to the man’s face, just like the memory of Marie can bring a tear to his eye. With all of his years of experience, he knows first hand that to be a good attorney, it isn’t about the money or how many times your face appears on a billboard. No. It’s about the cases where it hits you that you have made a life-changing impact on a person’s life. It’s knowing that at the end of the day, you have made a difference. It was both an honor and a privilege to do this article, not because I got to meet one of the most well-known attorneys in the area, but simply because I was the one allowed to tell his story. I genuinely hope I did it justice!
Marie** is not the woman’s real name. In the photograph of Mr. Bright and the shadow box of guns, Marie’s pistol is in the top left-hand corner. It was given to Mr. Bright, well, because she didn’t need it anymore.